Thursday, September 9, 2010

Introduction to this translation

Comments in relation to the present revision of Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s Translation of the meaning of the Holy Qur`an

First and foremost, we must acknowledge that the Qur`an, being the word of God, is miraculous in every respect including its prose, diction, composition and every other aspect.

In addition to being a miraculously composed book, the Qur`an contains prophesies of events to come and statements that pre-empt scientific discovery. These facts make rendering the word of God into another language an impossible dream, as a result, the best that a translator can hope for is to give the reader the general meaning of the message in the language of the day.

The translator cannot comprehensively account for words that are prophetic, words that describe future events or scientific facts. Such words and phrases are not fully comprehended until science catches up with them. An example of this is present in the first words of revelation which are to be found in Chapter 96: Proclaim in the name of your Guardian-Lord Who created, created the human being from ‘Alaq. This very word ‘Alaq has three meanings all of which apply to the context. These are: (1) a Leech-like substance, (2) a Blood Clot, or (3) Something That Clings or Hangs. At the time of revelation, none of the three meanings could be investigated or explored by observers. It seems that early commentators (even the original translator of the present work) used the reference as being to a blood clot, yet they did not have the means of knowing the relationship between a blood clot and the creation of a new human being.

Today, we know that one of the stages of the development of the embryo is a stage when it is a blood clot substance. We also know that the embryo goes through a stage when it does look like a leech and in its early development; it clings to the inside of the uterus and hangs from it. The use of such a word in Arabic is not by accident, it is the Wisdom of the Omniscient Omnipotent Creator. This is just one example for which a translator cannot just give a one word explanation.

There are other examples dealing with other social, geographical, heavenly, anthropological, psychological, scientific and other truths that cannot just be imported into a translation without an in depth explanation. Even this explanation will always be limited to the knowledge of the time and is not one that can look into the future.

Another highly curious verse is number 19 of Surah 84. The words that are combined are La-Tarkabunna which means that “you will embark on” or “you will ride on”, Tabaqan ‘An Tabaq. Tabaq literally means plate or saucer. It is also the root of the word for class or stage. This verse comes immediately after three verses dealing with heavenly phenomena which could make a twenty first century reader of the Arabic words entertain an interpretation that the time may come when human space travel will become feasible through the use of things like flying saucers which have long been held to be in the realm of the imagination. Or it could be a simple reference to humanity becoming more sophisticated? God knows best. Having access to the Arabic words, which seem more progressive with every reading, gives the reader the opportunity to revisit his or her own understanding of words of God.

The aforementioned examples present some of the reasons why translations must be revised and updated. Other reasons include the evolution of language; the English language evolves with every generation. In modern times, we find that young people develop their own words and the mixing of linguistically diverse people leads to further enrichment of a language, this is particularly true for a country like Australia where we rightly celebrate multiculturalism. This necessitates work to update translations in order to modernize some of the more archaic English words and to tweak the translation of some other words that just simply do not exist in the English language.

For example: The word Awliya, (singular form is Waly), most translations of the Holy Qur`an simply translate this word as “friends”. This word does not relate to friendship, it refers to a relationship akin to guardianship or power of attorney, in this regard, I have generally translated it as “protecting patrons”. There is also the word Taqwa, the closest English notion to this word is “piety”. Quite often translators represent it as “fear of God”, yet the word Taqwa literally means “to ward from yourself” or “to protect yourself from something”. In the Qur`anic context, this word is generally a reference to warding off or protecting oneself from any action or statement that is sinful or criminal. A longer explanation of Taqwa is found in the books of Hadith but put simply, the word has a special meaning for believers that cannot just be captured by the phrase “fear of God” for which translators generally opt. The word fear is negative whilst the word Taqwa is positive and this makes it difficult to just simply accept a translation that would bring a negative word into the context. In this regard, whilst I have my concerns about using the reference of “fearing God”, I have only changed the translation of this word in a couple of occurrences because I felt that the meaning was still conveyed despite my reservations. I also felt that if God wills for me to do another more in depth revision, I would next time like to keep some of the terms in Arabic and just footnote them. Terms such as Awliya and Taqwa would be terms that I would be highly unlikely to translate but rather footnote according to the context in which they appear.

These are certainly terms that can enrich any language and as there are no clear equivalents in English, there is no harm in importing such words just like many other words are imported into different languages.

There are other terms that are to be understood in their broader usage, the term Kafir is an example. This word literally refers to concealment, there is good reason to see a link between the word Kafir and the English word “cover” for in their simplest reference, they mean one and the same thing. Yet contextually, the word can refer to differences of opinion, to rejection, to ingratitude, to disbelief, to sowing the soil (covering seeds with earth). The word Kafir is used in all these differing contexts. Another word that is misunderstood and widely abused by present usage is “Jihad”; “Jihad” is a positive term that refers to striving and exerting effort and can apply in all contexts where effort is required.

I have also adjusted words that would today be seen as unnecessarily sexist. This was the least burdensome tweaking because in this regard, the English language has evolved to popularise terms that are more gender-neutral. What the reader may not be aware of is that the Arabic terms used in the Qur`an in this regard were always gender-neutral, the translator used references that seem gender-specific because this was the prevalent usage of the English language in his day. In this context, I am referring to words such as man, men and mankind when the Arabic used gender-neutral terms such as Insan, Imri`, Bashar, Inss and Nass, these Arabic terms mean human being, person, people, humanity. Of course I could not tweak every occurrence because in some contexts it was just not possible to make such an amendment to the translation as such an amendment carried the risk of making a phrase seem convoluted. In this regard, the reader should be able to discern from the context that the reference is to both men and women. There are other instances where the references are clearly gender specific, that is, there are verses which are clearly referring to men only and to women only, the reader will be able to discern this from the context.

Having completed this tweaking of some of the words in the translation I also feel that there are other issues that need to be explained to the English reader. The Qur`an in totality represents an act of grace from God, a gift from God to humanity in its entirety, those who do good and those who do bad, those who believe and those who reject. The Qur`an, whilst promising all the good things to those who believe and do good, it promises torment for those who reject God and engage in evil conduct. This type of discourse is not to be read as a condemnation of unbelievers, it is rather to alert unbelievers to their fate if they do not moderate their actions and review the attitudes that lead to these actions. This type of discourse is a genuine reflection of the needs of humanity and is also reflected in the Scriptures of other faiths.

It is important to note that there is a great difference between this Divine discourse and man-made systems when it comes to reward and punishment. One of the differences is that man-made law punishes the guilty and offers no reward to the good. Man made law cannot create rewards for every person who is law-abiding even if it does seek to quickly punish law-breakers. Whilst Man-made law does entail a presumption of innocence, its standard of proof is not always as strict as that of divine law and contrary to Divine Law, it is ever ready to pounce on any person who commits the slightest breach. Divine law on the other hand offers forgiveness to the sinner, when it presents a penalty for certain crimes and sins, it says: except for the one who repents, believes and does good work (Qur`an 25:70). Whilst Divine-law presents some tough penalties for serious crimes, it also presents a mechanism for the guilty to atone for his crime with his victim and keep the matter out of the courts through private conciliation. Man-made law places an emphasis on retribution whilst Divine law places the emphasis on forgiveness and healing.

The reader will see words in the Qur`an that prohibit a believer from fraternizing with those who fight the prophet peace and blessings upon him. This is pure logic, here we have a messenger of God who brings the very salvation of humanity, yet we see some members of the human family fight him and obstruct others from benefiting from him. Why would any decent person fraternize with such as would fight the messenger or deprive humanity from the grace of God that is to be found in this message? The relationship with such people must be based on providing logical argument to dissuade them from their actions and not a relationship of fraternity.

The Holy Qur`an explains where patronage, love and fraternity become misplaced and how these need to be directed in a proper way. You cannot sit with and show love to those who are forcing you or the prophet out of your homes (60:1). Love in this context is a sign of acquiescence, weakness, capitulation and servitude, you must maintain dignity and take a constructive stand. Those who are being persecuted by these criminals are more worthy of your love and compassion. If you have an old friendship or relationship with the persecutors, your love for them must be reflected in means that would help them to desist from the evil that they are perpetrating. Similarly, one cannot logically expect these persecutors to be his protectors or patrons when they are fighting to obstruct his very salvation.

Another significant correction relates to the name Satan, Arabic “Shaytan”. The original translation did not use the name “Satan” but rather translated the name as “The Evil One”. I felt that it was important to make this correction because Satan is a distinct form of creation whereas the term “The Evil One” did not give this impression with sufficient clarity.

Yes, the Qur`an warns the Kuffar (plural of Kafir which is explained above) of what God has in store for them, it does so whilst showing them that there are avenues for them to join the fold of believers in God. These people do not have to remain as Kuffar, if they stop rejecting and misrepresenting or obstructing from the truth, they will be welcome into the fold and will have the same salvation and bliss as the believers. see Qur`an 60:7.

These comments would not be complete without making some reference to the verses that deal with war. The fact that the book of Allah deals with this issue is indeed a blessing to proponents of peace everywhere, this is because the Holy Qur`an actually stipulates limits for Muslims who may be compelled by invasions or injustices to take up arms and fight.

Not only does Allah give the defenders limits, but He also stresses to them that if the attacking enemies incline towards peace, then the Muslims must do the same (Qur`an 8:61).

Quite often, we find non-Muslims abusing the word Jihad (literally, exertion of effort, or striving), we also find so called "experts" misquoting verse 191 of chapter 2 or verses 5 and 36 of chapter 9, usually, these "experts" only quote half verses or overlook the preceding and succeeding verses which give context. If these "experts" were to read the rest of the verses or the context, such as verse 190 of chapter 2, they would realize that 191 sanctions defensive fighting only against the attackers and it condemns transgression. Similarly with verses 5 and 36 of chapter 9 which apart from being revealed for specific incidents, also continue to say, in the case of verse 5: "… but if they repent, and establish regular Prayers and practise regular Charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful," and in the case of verse 36: "… So wrong not yourselves therein, and fight the Pagans all together as they fight you all together. But know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves." So 5 instructs believers to let go without hindrance those who wronged them if they repent and 36 states that a precondition for fighting is that the enemy starts the fight. This clarifies to any objective reader that fighting is only sanctioned under specific conditions, either to defend one's nation or to save humanity and remove hindrances, injustices, oppression or other unfair or unnatural obstacles that cause suffering.

Finally, this minor revision is not a retranslation or a major amendment of the translation; it is merely tweaking some words and phrases in minor ways to make them more reflective of today’s usage of the English language. It is also a small attempt to give more apt meaning to Arabic terms. In all, I tweaked or amended 796 words and phrases, and I could see scope for more, but these would require a complete rewrite of the translation of these verses. I have only tweaked those terms that require urgent amendment. This work is by no means complete for I would like to tweak more expressions to make them easier for the youths to understand, this will have to wait for another print run.

Having finished, I have to admit my admiration for the original translator Allama (the scholar) Abdullah Yusuf Ali. His efforts in not only providing a translation but also an in depth commentary were monumental and he did a superb job. His was the first English translation of the Holy Qur`an that I had read after having read the Qur`an numerous times in the original language of Arabic. I learnt a great deal from the English translation and commentary, to see myself updating the translation today is indeed an honour, my gratitude goes to Allah for facilitating this task for me. I have long wanted to dedicate the necessary years that it would take to produce an up to date translation of the Holy Qur`an, this minor revision of the English translation is but a step that will need to be followed by more work if we are to help our fellow human beings appreciate the beauty and grandeur of the Holy Qur`an. Readers’ questions and feedback in relation to this endeavour will be welcome.

Keysar Trad
Sydney, Australia
January 2006

About Keysar Trad: Keysar Trad is based in Sydney Australia; he migrated to Australia from Lebanon shortly before he turned thirteen years of age. He continued his education in Australia where he serves the Muslim community and the broader human family through answering questions about Islam and speaking to different groups and through different forums. He has shared platforms with some of the most senior members of the clergy of other faiths. He hosted his own Muslim community radio program for approximately three years and has served as a director with Australia’s largest grassroots Muslim organisation for over five years. Keysar has also served as a close associate to the Mufty of Australia translating and interpreting for him and providing consultation to him on various matters of relevance for approximately six years. Keysar has translated several books about Islam and has produced his own book and leaflet to explain Islam to the Western reader. Keysar is the founder of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, an organisation that specialises in interfaith work presenting correct information about Islam to the general public. He is also a trustee with the Australian Islamic Educational Trust, an organisation that has worked to serve Muslims in the state of Queensland for approximately ten years. Keysar has also represented Islam and issues of relevance to Muslims through numerous interviews across all sections of the media over many years, this representation amplified to become quite prolific since September 2001. Keysar’s internet site can be accessed at, his email address is

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